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Heat wave: Death Valley braces for record heat

June 30, 2013|By Louis Sahagun

FURNACE CREEK, Calif. -- At noon, the temperature stood at 122 in the shade, what little of it there was.

Ravens huddled in the shadows of desert scrub, panting with their beaks open wide. The Desert pupfish of Salt Creek swam for cover in the deeper, cooler pools near the stream’s headwaters. A sign posted at the entrance to the Furnace Creek Golf Course registration office said, “Closed at 12:30 due to extreme heat.”

With the temperature inching toward a forecasted peak of an oppressive 130, fluid loss through sweating, with the depletion of sugar and electrolytes, can exceed a gallon an hour. The temperature of the asphalt nears 200 degrees. And Phil Dickinson, director of marketing at Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley National Park, could hardly keep up with the telephone calls from journalists around the world wanting answers to this question: How does 130 feel?

PHOTOS: Heat wave in the Southland

“As a 15-year resident of Death Valley, temperatures of 112 or 114 are not that uncomfortable to me,” he said.

“But pile on 10 degrees on top of that and it’s brutal. It feels like you are in a conventional oven. Breathing in air this hot creates a sense that it is searing your lungs.”

Park rangers advised sweltering visitors to remain alert for symptoms of potentially lethal heat stroke: heart fibrillations, vomiting, headaches, dizziness and incoherent mumbling.

Despite the danger, Hollywood stock broker Darius Mikrut and Calabasas entertainment attorney Darius Vosylius were hitting the driving range at the Furnace Creek Golf Course.

“All our friends are in Santa Monica enjoying the beach,” Vosylius, 45, said, mopping his brow.

“But we decided to drive straight to hell today,” Mikrut, 31, chimed in with a laugh.

National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Stachelksi put it another way. “What is happening in Death Valley today is a very impressive feat -- meteorologically speaking.”

So why was the hottest place on Earth headed toward a benchmark high Sunday?

Meteorologists attribute the crippling heat to a combination of factors, including a relatively narrow valley bordered by mountain ranges that trap prevailing winds and curtail circulation; a dearth of vegetation; vast expanses of sand, dirt and rocks that heat up in the summer sun; the region’s low elevation and global warming.

The national park’s headquarters in Furnace Creek is 190 feet below sea level. Nearby Badwater, at 280 feet below sea level, is the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere.

It is also where Santa Barbara attorney Robert Landheer planned to be at 3 p.m. when Badwater is expected to be as hot as a blast furnace.

“I don’t want to talk about how hot it’s going to get,” he said after guzzling nearly a quart of water. “I want to feel it and, of course, survive it.”

Meanwhile, the entire Southern California region was experiencing extreme temperatures. 

In Los Angeles, the heat was a particular concern to firefighters because it comes in a year of record dry conditions that have already sparked several major brush fires in the area.

Fireworks also went on sale Friday in some areas, adding another fire danger. Fireworks will be sold in 295 designated communities in the state through the Fourth of July.

Since January, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has responded to about 2,900 fires, department spokesman Daniel Berlant said. In an average year, he said, it would have responded to fewer than 1,800 by this time.

Dry brush is a reason for the increase in fires, Berlant said. Current weather conditions are more typical of late August or early September, he said.

"We're in a long-term drought," climatologist Patzert said. "The situation is extremely crispy and dry. That equals incendiary."

Several agencies opened cooling centers — air-conditioned facilities where the public can escape the heat — in Los Angeles County. For information about the centers, call 211.

louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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